Gene duplication and the environmental regulation of physiology and development



When different life stages have different environmental tolerances, development needs to be regulated so that each life stage experiences environmental conditions that are suitable for it, if fitness is to be maintained. Restricting the timing of developmental transitions to occur under specific combinations of environmental conditions is therefore adaptively important. However, impeding development can itself incur demographic and fitness costs. How do organisms regulate development and physiological processes so that they occur under the broadest range of permissive conditions? Gene duplication offers one solution: Multiple genes contribute to the same downstream process, but do so under distinct combinations of environmental conditions. We present a simple model to examine how environmental sensitivities of genes and how gene duplication influence the distribution of environmental conditions under which an end process will proceed. The model shows that the duplication of genes that retain their downstream function but diverge in environmental sensitivities can allow an end process to proceed under more than one distinct combination of environmental conditions. The outcomes depend on how upstream genes regulate downstream components, which genes in the pathway have diversified in their sensitivities, and the structure of the pathway.